Thursday, April 23, 2009

Australia 2020 Summit Government Response

The Australian Government issued "Responding to the Australia 2020 Summit" on 22 April 2009. This 262 page document is in response to the summit held 19 to 20 April 2008, and submissions made. Some proposals I helped prepare were accepted by government. However the government's response was so slow and so little to largely negate the value of the exercise.

A final report was issued, 31 May 2008 but it has taken the government almost a year to respond. I took part in two local summits: the held 5 April 2008 supported by the ACT Government and the Open 2020 Local Summit 3 April 2008 (Open 2020 Submission) organised by Senator Lundy with my assistance at the Australian National University. In addition I made a submission. Generally the proposals I helped prepare on improved access to education online were accepted, but those for Open Access and changes to governance were rejected by government.

The Open 2020 summit concerned itself with issues of the Internet, use of open source and open access information, education and sustainable development. A quick check of the government response shows 8 references to "Internet", 6 of which are in items which will be progressed by government, one to be considered later and one rejected. There is only one reference to "web" which is in a rejected item. "Open Source" does not occur in the document. "Open Access" occurs eight times, four of which are in reference to data networks (the National Broadband Network) and are in items accepted, one for reform of crown copyright to be considered later, one for use of computer searches for FOI (proposed by me) was rejected. There were two references to "open access" for reducing the period after which government documents are accessible from 30 years to 20 years, one of these indicates the proposal will be progressed, whereas the other seems to say the same proposal was rejected.

Proposals for greater access to online education, particularly for regional communities were accepted. "E-learning" occurs three times in the document, in ideas accepted by the government:
Expansion of online education in tertiary and secondary schools to ensure that courses are accessible to remote, rural and regional people via virtual classrooms, online tutors and mentors, e-learning tele-education centres, and better use of hard infrastructure such as school buildings for out-of-school-time use.
Overall the government response to the summit was adequate, but so slow as to make the exercise of little value and not worth the effort expended on it. In the age of the Internet a year is a very long time. What goodwill the government had was squandered by raising expectations with the summit and then failing to deliver within an acceptable time period. Any future similar request for consultation by the Government should be treated much more sceptically by the public.

In addition the government failed to make use of the available technology to carry out consultation in an efficient and timely way. Making the participants travel thousands of kilometres to one place for a few days and then exclude the rest of the Australian population from taking part is unacceptable. This showed either a lack of competence by the government, or a deliberate and cynical decision to exclude the majority of citizens from taking part in a meaningful way. The government rejected offers for an online component to the summit.

The Government response to the 2020 Summit was issued in the form of a 1.8Mb PDF document, in PDF documents by chapter and with versions also supplied in RTF and Microsoft Word formats. The government did not provide an easy to read web based version of the document. The document provided is very difficult to read.

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